TBCTGreeneA Conversation with Trevor Greene, Principal
Toppenish High School, Toppenish School District, Toppenish, Washington

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH: Congratulations, Mr. Greene! The National Association of Secondary School Principals has named you the 2013 National High School Principal of the Year! That’s indicative of your outstanding achievement as an educational leader.

TREVOR GREENE: Thank you, but, as I’ve said elsewhere, this really isn’t an “I” thing, it’s a “we” thing. We’ve built a strong team at Toppenish High School, and we’re all focused on student achievement.

TBC: What led you to become an educator?

TG: Both of my parents were educators. My mother, a librarian, has the longest tenure in her district. I am a Muskogee Cree on my late father’s side, and we moved to the Yakama Reservation when I was in the 5th grade. I grew up wanting to make a difference and realized that education could help me do that. That feeling intensified when I spent time in Argentina serving my church and later studied in Spain and Mexico.

I received my B.A. from Brigham Young University in 1994 & accepted an offer to teach in Yakima, Washington. I taught Spanish and English for 11 years, and, during that time, decided that I wanted to move into administration. I earned my M.A. in Education in 1998 and Administrative Certification in 2005, both from Central Washington University. I served as an administrator in the Yakima and Highland districts for 2 years before moving to Toppenish in 2007 as principal at the middle school, and came to the high school as principal in 2008. I received my superintendent’s credential from Washington State University in 2009, and am currently in a doctoral program there.

TBC: Tell us about the Toppenish School District and the high school.

TG: We are located on the Yakama Reservation, so, in a sense, it’s been like coming home. There are 3,500 students in the district — 790 at the high school. 9.2% of our students are Native American, and 86.5% are Hispanic; 20% are Migrant, 18.9% are Transitional Bilingual, and 10.4% are in Special Education; 99.8% are on the free or reduced-cost lunch program.

TBC: You faced substantial challenges, then.

TG: Our school population was only part of the challenge. When I arrived at the high school, we were in the midst of a full-scale re-construction project and I had to be involved in meetings with contractors, developing punch lists — all of that, plus, we were making a major change in our mentor-teacher program. It was just change on top of change.

TBC: You began working with The Breakthrough Coach in 2006, while you were in your previous school district. Was TBC’s Methodology helpful in dealing with all of this upheaval?

TG:Oh, yes, but it’s been a long process. I first attended Malachi Pancoast’s 2-Day Program in 2006, and what he said made so much sense! I realized I needed to develop the ability to manage myself before I could manage others. I went back to my school and made some of the radical changes Malachi recommended, but there was no real buy-in from the administration. The changes I made were tolerated, but not really supported.

I moved to Toppenish Middle School about 5 months later, but my secretary hadn’t been through the TBC training, so I found myself drifting back into some of my old ways. I was determined however, and TBC’s Management Methodology provided the framework I needed to make the dramatic changes that would send a message to the entire school community. I went through the 2-Day Program a second time, and by the 2011-12 school year, all district administrators and secretaries had been through the training.

TBC: How did that go?

BT: At first, not very well. My second secretary and I got off to a rough start, in part because I was unconsciously comparing her to her predecessor. I tried to implement TBC’s methodology with her, but it just wasn’t working and we regressed. At this point, my secretary, along with the head principal’s secretary, pressed for us to attend TBC’s 2-Day Program again. We did and things began to go really well after that.

TBC: Based upon the comments made by students, teachers, district leaders, and community members when NASSP presented your Principal of the Year Award, you have built a strong and supportive team. How did you do that?

TG: TBC taught me the necessity of capacity-building — coaching to develop teachers and empowering others. I’ve learned how to get things done through other people, making requests instead of fulfilling them. I tell people that it’s fine to bring me a problem, but that they should also bring me two possible solutions. I’ve learned to give myself and others permission to fail, but then to get right back to the problem and re-commit.

TBC: Toppenish High School has made real progress academically under your leadership. Can you give us some examples?

TG: Our scores on state science tests are up 67%; our on-time graduation rate has risen from 80.4% in 2008 to 90.4% in 2012; our students consistently score above state averages on state-wide standardized tests.

TBC: Those achievements are remarkable, and TBC is proud to have been a part of your success.

TG: I can tell you that TBC has made a marked, positive difference in the way that I approach not only my job, but also my life.

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